*State is playing a fourth Eastern Division team in its first six SEC contests. The Bulldogs are 0-3 against the East with losses to Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida. South Carolina is 1-0 against the West, having beaten Arkansas this past Wednesday.
*The teams have played one common non-conference opponent. State lost at Clemson 69-66 on November 21, while the Gamecocks lost at home to their in-state rival 74-53 on December 2.
About the Gamecocks: After claiming consecutive NIT championships South Carolina really, really wants the chance to see if they can score similar success in the other March tournament. But to get a NCAA bid these Gamecocks will have to pick up their SEC pace. They were the last to score a conference win and still stand 12th in the overall league-list. Which by no coincidence is where Dave Odom's club also ranks in too many statistical standings for comfort. Such as scoring, shooting, three-pointers, rebounding, steals, and assists; last across the proverbial board. But before marking a ‘W' beside a date with the Gamecocks it might be wise to consider a couple of less-numerical facts. Odom's teams tend to play better by the end of seasons and this club might be rounding into such former a bit sooner, judged by a close loss at Tennessee and Wednesday's win over the Razorbacks. And the style of play these ‘Cocks prefer is ideal for frustrating teams without long experience or lots of patience. South Carolina attacks games more deliberately than anyone in the league and keeps the clock running, which is how two of their starters rank first and second in SEC minutes-played. It also limits how often the ball goes up in the air; South Carolina is the only conference club still under 1,000 shots for the season. The official roster has just 11 names on it, and of those only seven get any real playing time. All have started at least two SEC games, too, so there's some flexibility in the lineup Odom might open with. But two of the names announced before tipoff are certain: senior Brandon Wallace will be in the paint and classmate Tre' Kelly roaming the perimeter. Kelly is the key, and leg problems have slowed his season—and the team—for much of the season so-far. But he's still third in SEC scoring (on a team with nobody else in the top-30), a threat to stick a trey or dish for the assist. When healthy he's one of the league's elite guards and even hampered he can win a game. Wallace doesn't have a lot of meat on his 6-9 frame but is enjoying a career-season; he's gone from 7.6 points and 6.1 boards as a junior to 10.5 and 9.4, ranking 2nd in SEC rebounds. He's also third in blocked shots and a runaway first in minutes played. After those two Odom can mix or match from five choices who get about as many minutes whether starting or subbing. Certainly guard Bryce Sheldon, the other senior on this roster, will get on court and put up threes. Freshman Evaldas Baniulis has three SEC starts at forward and can play inside or out, while fellow rookie Dominque Archie helps out on the boards and blocking, areas where this team is still usually overpowered. And veteran guard Dwayne Day is another outside-shooting option with league experience. For that matter everybody who regularly plays is capable of knocking down the longball, though they have to exhaust other options first. South Carolina has the fewest treys in the conference. And while their shooting defense is respectable (that style of play, y'know) they still give up too many points. Which means every possession is priceless for a Gamecock team with no margins for error anywhere. That extends to their hopes for March, too. In fact, if South Carolina can't pick up their pace in several key areas getting back to the NIT might become a legitimate goal.
Projected Starting Lineups:
South Carolina: F Dominque Archie, FR 6-7 208, 8.6ppg, 4.8rpg, 12 blks; F Brandon Wallace, SR 6-9 200, 10.5ppg, 9.4rpg, 51 blks; F Evaldas Banjuli, FR 6-7 209, 4.2ppg, 2.6rpg, 13 3ptrs; F/G Bryce Sheldon, SR 6-4 196, 7.5ppg, 1.4rpg, 30 3ptrs; G Tre Kelly, SR 6-0 188, 16.9ppg, 4.6apg, 28 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Dwayne Day, JR 6-6 189, 7.8ppg, 2.5rpg, 22 3ptrs; G Brandis Rayley-Ross, FR 6-3 180, 7.2ppg, 2.9rpg, 18 3ptrs.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.9ppg, 2.7rpg, 20 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 3.2ppg, 4.0rpg, 24 blks. C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.5ppg, 6.4rpg, 25 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.9ppg, 2.0rpg, 32 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.2ppg, 7.6rpg, 4.8apg
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.8ppg, 5.3rpg, 42 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 6.9ppg, 3.7apg, 23 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 12.3ppg, 3.3rpg, 43 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 8.3ppg, 5.7rpg.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.1, SC 62.7
PPG Allowed: MSU 65.2, SC 65.4
FG Shooting: MSU 46.7%, SC 41.9%
FG Defense: MSU 37.4%, SC 44.5%
3PT Shooting: MSU 37.4%, SC 32.1%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, SC 6.8
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.1, SC 21.1
Rebounding: MSU 40.7, SC 32.4
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.6, SC –2.0
FT Shooting: MSU 64.5%, SC 63.4%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 23.2, SC 17.0
Assists PG: MSU 14.4, SC 11.2
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.1, SC +0.3
The Series: These schools never met on hardwood until they were in the same conference. Since 1992 there have been 17 games with State holding a 10-7 lead. The Bulldogs are 6-1 on the home court, the lone loss in 1997 to S.C.'s SEC championship team. The teams have met twice in SEC Tournaments, with the Gamecocks winning in both 2001 and 2006…coincidentally, both times at Nashville's Gaylord Center. Rick Stansbury is 6-4 against South Carolina. Dave Odom is 2-4 against State, sweeping both meetings in 2006.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Mississippi State now leads the SEC in four statistical categories. The Bulldogs are first in both overall field goal shooting and in three-point shooting defense; and in blocked shots and defensive rebounding.
*The Bulldogs have blocked 125 shots in 18 games, compared to the 136 blocks in 30 games by last year's team. At this pace, the team will set a season-standard for swats. The current record is 175 by the 1995-96 team. Three Dogs—backup C Jarvis Varnado, starting C Vernon Goodridge, and F/C Charles Rhodes—rank in the top-12 of the SEC individually in blocks.
*The Bulldogs went into the Auburn game ranked 11th in SEC free-throw shooting. In their last two game, both at home, State has gone 35-of-43 at the stripe, or 81.4%, compared to the full-season rate of 64.5%.
*He hasn't started a game, yet, but freshman G Barry Stewart figures into any gameplan for and against State. He has been the SEC's Freshman of the Week both of the past two such periods and is the league's second-leading first-year scorer with the 12.3 average. *Stewart is ahead of that pace in SEC action, averaging 14.2 points in his five league games. He has made 14 of his team-best 43 treys in conference competition and shot 54% at the arc in SEC games. For the season as a whole he has shot 42% on longballs.
*Stewart is on pace to set the MSU freshman record for three-pointers made. The existing mark of 59 was notched last season by Reginald Delk, in 30 games.
*For the first two months of the schedule, Stewart looked more comfortable shooting from arcs painted on hostile courts with a better outside-accuracy on the road than at home. Including SEC action he is still 19-of-44 (43.2%) in road shooting. But after going 7-of-13 in the last two outings Stewart is up to 24-of-58 (41.4%) in Humphrey Coliseum.
*Stewart is also efficient shooting from closer-in, and stationary. He is 13-of-13 at the stripe in the past two home games and shooting 81.9% for the year. That ranks second in the SEC this week. And the 6-2 guard does a much better job getting fouled than any bigger Dog. He has been to the line 72 times this year; centers Varnado and Goodridge only 68 between them. Even F/C Charles Rhodes has taken just 57 free throws tries this year.
*Yet Stewart is not quite the most accurate Dog at the charity line. Fellow freshman guard Ben Hansbrough is 30-of-36, 83.3%. This is not enough makes or attempts to meet SEC minimums for ranking, though. And Hansbrough has been to the line only twice in the last five games.
*Sophomore guard/forward Jamont Gordon's 17 points Wednesday was his 15th double-digit effort of the season and fourth in SEC play. Gordon led State in scoring against Florida, the eight time in 18 games he has topped the team offensively. He also tied for the game-lead in rebounds, something he has paced State in ten games this year.
*Gordon ranks 9th in SEC scoring, 8th in rebounding, and 5th in assists.
*Gordon has 86 assists against 78 turnovers this soph season; as a freshman his ratio was negative at 129/142. He has 215 career assists; it will take 301 to move into the MSU top-ten.
*He already has 340 career rebounds in 48 games, a better career average (7.1) for the 6-4 guard than 6-8 Rhodes can claim (345, 62 games, 5.6).
*Gordon's long-range shooting has slipped in SEC season, as he is 4-of-16 at the arc in five games. But his accuracy at the foul stripe is improving as he his 10-of-12 in the last two games and 18-of-24 for all SEC games. Gordon is the only Bulldog to have been to the line more than 100 times (106 so far).
*Gordon now has 686 career points, most of any active Bulldog. Rhodes has 644 for his three seasons, and senior G Dietric Slater 422.
*Other than a 4-of-14 afternoon at Kentucky, Rhodes has been an efficient shooter in SEC season. He is making 53% from the floor through five league games; take away the off-day at Lexington and it is 63%.
*But, Rhodes has taken only 49 shots in his SEC outings. As a sophomore he scored double-digits in every conference game; Rhodes has been held under ten points by both Kentucky and Florida this year.
*Rhodes still has a career average of 10.4 points.
*SEC competition has been a whole ‘nother game for freshman C Varnado, who had blocked 29 shots in pre-league play. In his first four SEC games he managed four blocks. Against Florida the rookie got back on his previous pace with three swats, giving him 42 for the season. That is more than any Bulldog for a season since Tyrone Washington with 65 in 1999.
*Since being activated for the last half of his season Slater has contributed, usually. In three of five SEC games he has scored double-digits, but in the other two he had six combined points. And until the Florida game he was showing good shot selection, going 14-of-30 in league play. Wednesday he was 4-of-13, though he did hit his first trey of the season.
*Sophomore G Reginald Delk has made 32 threes this season, 11 in SEC games. He now has 91 longballs for his short college career. With ten more he will move into the MSU career top-ten, catching Marckell Patterson's 101 from 1999-02.